Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Halls of the Things (1983)

Name:Halls of the Things
Publisher:Crystal Computing
Developer:Design Design
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 30 minutes
Won:No (55W/55L)

Today's game gets a short introduction, because there's not much to it. The concept and story is simple, find 7 magic rings while dodging the Things. What are the Things? They're what are opposing you from finding the rings. To accomplish this task you have a wide variety of weapons and magic spells, which are in some order, sword, arrows, lightning, fireballs and healing. Sounds like a lot? It is.

This is one of those games that has a lot and I do mean a lot of keys. With just moving and attacking, you use some 13 keys. (including, I should add, the key you press to fire arrows and aim arrows) This doesn't count the keys you need to open and close doors, pick up and drop items, open the status screen, and center the screen. That is a lot for a game that is in essence, a twitch shooter. More than any game I've played chronologically. I knew this was going to cause some trouble.

The game came on three systems, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum. That's the order I played them in and the order I would recommend. The Spectrum original...didn't work. The CPC version had a few nice options, including the ability to redraw everything in the game world, but ran too fast and controlled worse than the C64 version. The C64 did have its share of issues, but it was at least playable.

Each game is randomly generated, you have to find your way across 7 floors to find a ring on each one. This is done somewhat unusually, there's a staircase outside and you can enter each floor in any order you choose. As you walk by each floor, its loaded in and enemies can and will attack you from the supposed safety of the staircase. Each floor you go up increases in openness, that is, lower floors have smaller rooms and short corridors, while latter ones have longer corridors and less doors. There's one common theme, however, everything will be a corridor, and this is going to be long.
Enemies can use any ranged attack you can, and open doors. There's not a lot differentiating them from each other. I think some can't open doors, and there are some that appear as treasure until you approach, but very little changes how you're actually going to deal with these guys. They're all flighty and hard to hit. Each encounter is always dangerous, but its a threat you're well aware of ahead of time. In a weird way, despite the overt simplicity of this, it worked. It creates a driving force behind the game. How the hell are these Things kicking my ass?
Dropping treasure outside, thus increasing my score

In part, this is down to the weird controls. You have four attacks, which in decreasing order of effectiveness are fireballs, lightning, arrows and sword. The fireballs and lightning are direction agnostic, meaning if you can fire them, they'll automatically aim at a Thing within range. The fireballs are homing attacks, which means as long as it can see a Thing, it'll home in on them. Lightning bolts are just aimed at them, before bouncing off walls. Arrows you have to manually aim and hope you hit something. Finally the sword attacks is a melee attack that hits everyone within the three tiles facing you're facing.

Fireballs were generally the most effective way of killing things. Damage was rarely a concern, most enemies die in 1-2 hits and the homing ability of the fireball meant I could be sure I hit something. Lightning lacked the homing ability, and Things were always on the move. Its rare usefulness occurred when multiple enemies were in an enclosed space. I had to be careful with it. Because it bounced off walls, I was in much danger as the Things were. And vice versa when they attacked with lightning. Lightning hurts everyone, and friendly fire killed more Things with lightning than I did. Arrows were a pain to aim, for reasons I'll explain, while the sword was basically the last desparate attempt of a dying man.

The lightning, fireballs and healing spells all use magic, which you find by picking up items found in the game world. I note, you do this by finding bottles, not coins. Arrows are non-replenishable. Something I find annoying, because hitting something with them is bad enough when you don't have to worry about running out. The coins just give score, wit the added bonus that they can also be Things. You can only carry a certain number of them before you have to drop them. I dropped them outside the tower, which I guess is where you're supposed to drop them.

Moving around is extremely unpleasant. Extremely. Your character turns before he moves. I kept doing a light tap followed by another light tap. Which turned me around, then moved me two spaces. Moving one space is possible but difficult. Making a turn under pressure? Hahaha. Because of this and having to manually aim the arrows, hitting anything with them was always a stroke of luck. I could change it to a more comfortable position, but that would also require me changing half the keys this game uses, so I use a cluster of ,./;, with poor results.

The game, despite its crudeness and poor controls, is fun. Not an amazing game, but the central concept works. That driving force I mentioned works. At first you wonder how such simple creatures could be so deadly before it turns into figuring out how to properly manage your magic so you can survive this floor. It was enjoyable for the length of time I played it, though I doubt I could ever win it save through extensive use of save states. I even made an earnest attempt at winning, but gave up because there wasn't a ring on one floor.

I made a short video of gameplay. Mostly just to illustrate my point about controls. One thing I note I forgot to mention is how the camera changes, it moves around whenever you reach the edge of the screen and you can also change it by pressing space, which recenters the screen. I would have preferred smoother camera changes, but it worked well enough for its purpose.

Despite there being one choice that's best 75% of the time, the other two reasonable options are nice choices. There's also a sense of awesomeness at being able to use a Revenant attack in a completely random game. 3/10

The Things aren't very distinct from one another, outside of mimics, but its interesting seeing enemies with almost the exact same skillset as you. Makes killing them more satisfying and dealing with mimics requires a bit of forethought. 2/10


Randomly generated, but somewhat consistent in overall design based on what floor it is. 1/10

Player Agency:
A convoluted mess of options, some of which create busywork in the game. This is in addition to the game not being that easy to control. 2/10


The combination of simple objectives and deceptively hard enemies enhances what is otherwise a mundane game. 4/10

Incredibly simple, but readable. 1/10


Surprisingly basic sounds. 1/10

That's 14.

I don't know if there's going to be another game between then and now, but I'm going to be covering an unusual game this Christmas. Here's a hint, it has some of the best music ever featured in a video game.

No comments:

Post a Comment